Earthlife wins SA’s first climate change court case

Cape Town - Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA) won South Africa’s first climate change court case, in which the North Gauteng High Court ordered the Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa to reconsider their appeal regarding the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station in Limpopo.

Molewa must reconsider their appeal taking into account a full climate change impact assessment report and all public comments received, Judge John Murphy ordered.

Murphy said Molewa and her department should have given proper consideration to the climate change impacts of the proposed coal-fired power station before a decision could have been made to allow it to go ahead

“This application raises concerns about the environmental impacts of the decision to build a 1200MW coal-fired power station near Lephalale in the Limpopo Province,” said Murphy.

“The power station is to be built by … Thabametsi … and is intended to be in operation until at least 2061.

“On 25 February 2015, the chief director granted Thabametsi an environmental authorisation for the proposed power station.

He explained that ELA appealed against the grant of authorisation to Molewa, who upheld the decision on 7 March 2016.

“We welcome this judgement, which sends a strong message to government and to all developers proposing projects with potentially significant climate change impacts in South Africa that permission cannot be given for such projects unless the climate change impacts have been properly assessed,” said Makoma Lekalakala of ELA.

“South Africa is a water-stressed country, and the Waterberg, where the power station would be located, is a particularly water-stressed area. Climate impacts are a big deal for communities and farmers who depend on the limited water available.”

SA reliance on coal impacts climate change - judge

Murphy said South Africa is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas due to heavy mining and minerals processing in the economy and the coal-intensive energy system.

“Coal is an emissions-intensive energy carrier and coal-fired power stations emit significant volumes of greenhouse gasses, which cause climate change.

“Coal-fired power stations are the single largest national source of greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa.

“South Africa is therefore particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to our socio-economic and environmental context.

“Climate variability, including the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will be consequential for society as a whole.

“South Africa is moreover a water-stressed country facing future drying trends and weather variability with cycles of droughts and sudden excessive rains.

“Coal-fired power stations thus not only contribute to climate change but are also at risk from the consequences of climate change.

“As water scarcity increases due to climate change, this will place electricity generation at risk, as it is a highly water intensive industry.”

Earthlife loses nuclear smelter case

Meanwhile, ELA lost another court action against South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) to stop the construction and use of a small nuclear waste smelter.

On Tuesday, in the High Court in Pretoria, Judge Pierre Rabie dismissed ELA’s application to set aside the authorisation for Necsa to operate the smelter.

“I am really pleased at this most sensible outcome,” Necsa chairperson Kelvin Kemm in a statement on Wednesday. “Earthlife Africa has consistently refused to listen to any reason and has pursued this silly action as part of its ongoing attitude of obstruction of Necsa’s activities at every opportunity.”

“Earthlife Africa made much of a ventilation stack attached to the smelter,” said Necsa CEO Phumzile Tshelane.

“They made repeated accusations that radioactive gasses would be emitted by the stack.  This is simply not true, which was explained to them repeatedly.  

“The stack is for air pressure control purposes, since the entire smelter is indoors, and the stack is not connected to any radioactive materials, at any time.”

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